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Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Costa’

By Kevin Costa

Illustration opposite Sonnet XII by Henry Ospovat. (Folger Shakespeare Library)

Illustration opposite Sonnet XII by Henry Ospovat. (Folger Shakespeare Library)

Shakespeare’s Sonnets are fantastic for so many reasons. Peter O’Toole, in an interview on NPR a few years ago, said, “They’re my life companion. They’re at the side of my bed. They travel with me. I pick them up, and I read them all the time. I find them endlessly informing, endlessly beautiful, endlessly – they say, they hit the spot so many times on so many things.”

He’s right. I find myself turning to the Sonnets in times when I’m looking for a companion who seems to understand me before I myself do — and, let’s be honest: isn’t that why we love literature in the first place?

When I with my students, I like to emphasize how “companionable,” to borrow a word from Yeats, poetry can be. The greatest lyric poetry feels like that friend you turn to who just “gets” you. There is no judgement but only unconditional love from a poem. I start there.

Years ago, I remember watching Trevor Nunn working with David Suchet on what would later become the series, Playing Shakespeare. Nunn asked Suchet to perform Sonnet 138 as if it were Suchet’s part of the dialogue in an imagined scenario. I was riveted. Understanding Shakespeare for the stage was the object there, but I have found this approach to be a superb way of achieving all the objectives of close reading in and English classroom. Laurence Perrine would approve!

With lyric poetry, we often feel that a person is right there speaking to us or, at least, to another person. A poem, in other words, gives us a character. And this is where you might begin, too. Let us look at Sonnet 18.

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Zach Appelman (Henry V), Henry V, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2013. Scott Suchman.

Zach Appelman (Henry V) in Henry V, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2013. Photo by Scott Suchman.

By Kevin J. Costa

This past June, I attended the Michael Chekhov Association’s annual International Conference and Workshop in New London, CT. MICHA is an international organization that offers, among other things, intensive actor training each summer for people interested in Chekhov’s psycho-physical approach to the art of acting.

While Chekhov’s approach owes considerable debt to the theories of Constantin Stanislavski — as just about all approaches do from the 20th and 21st centuries — Chekhov’s crucial innovation was to explore the necessary link between outer, physical training of the body and its ability to develop a rich inner-life for the actor.

At the center of all this work is the notion of “the gesture” (most importantly, what Chekhov called the “Psychological Gesture”) and what work on gesture can allow us to discover as artistic possibilities in ourselves.

This got me thinking, of course, to the often physical approach Folger Education encourages teachers and students to practice when studying Shakespeare. Whether creating frozen pictures, embodying images with movement, or putting on whole scenes, students around the world who study Shakespeare through performance and through kinesthetic means have an awful lot in common with Michael Chekhov’s students.

And they also discover, quite readily, that it leads to compelling intellectual discoveries about complex texts. Why, then, is physical engagement with text important — important beyond merely giving lip-service to the fact that these are plays? (more…)

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By Kevin Costa

Whenever I begin a Shakespeare play with my students in my two-year course, The Institute for Shakespeare and Renaissance Studies at McDonogh School, I get the class working on text from just about Day One. I don’t spend a lot of time setting up with talk about Shakespeare’s life or with the history of the period — there’s plenty of time for that later, if at all.

Owiso Odera (Othello) and Ian Merrill Peakes (Iago), Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011. Photo by Carol Pratt.

Owiso Odera (Othello) and Ian Merrill Peakes (Iago), Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011. Photo by Carol Pratt.

When I first started this course, I would choose the play we’d cover for two years, but this fall I took a different approach. My students and I looked through the Complete Works, and we read bits and pieces of plays that I thought they might like. This year, I think we may have looked at the moment in Othello where Iago helps convince Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful (3.3). Then we also read through the two scenes in Measure for Measure where Angelo propositions Isabella to sleep with him (2.2 & 2.4).

If you have a choice of play from which to chose, this is a compelling way to have students own their experience from the get-go. In other words, get students hooked by offering some of a play’s “greatest hits.” Once they have a taste of something they like, they’ll certainly want more since a well-chosen scene can really awaken their curiosity for the whole work.

If you don’t have a choice in play, that’s no problem at all. Here are some ideas for some of the most-taught titles.

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Owiso Odera (Othello) and Ian Merrill Peakes (Iago), Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011.

Owiso Odera (Othello) and Ian Merrill Peakes (Iago), Othello, directed by Robert Richmond, Folger Theatre, 2011.

Today we’re featuring a lesson plan from among the highest rated teaching modules on our website. It’s written by Kevin J. Costa, a 2010 Teaching Shakespeare Institute alum and an English teacher at McDonogh School in Owings Mills, MD, where he also serves as Director of Fine & Performing Arts.

Read Costa’s introduction to this lesson plan, “The Bullies and the Bullied,” which is tailored for Othello but can be adapted for other Shakepeare plays:

“In this lesson, students will approach Shakespeare’s Othello through the lens of bullying — a modern-day adolescent problem of which students may have first-hand experience. By drawing on their own understanding of bullying and on definitions and descriptions of bullying widely available, students will have a powerful entry point into one of Shakespeare’s most psychologically complex plays.

This lesson will likely provide ample opportunities to engage students in timely discussions of pressures they might be facing in their own experiences, and the hope is that beginning with a focus on a highly charged issue like bullying, this will allow students a way to start “doing” things with Shakespeare’s language instead of getting caught in the idea that they can’t understand it. An engaging issue can help students to bypass this block.

Students will participate in a pre-reading discussion of bullying in order to establish definitions from which they will draw in discussions of the play as it is studied.

At the conclusion of their reading, students will stage select scenes from the play in order to understand and assess whether characters in Othello are perpetrators and/or victims of bullying as our culture understands the term today. Final staging of scenes will follow the festival model proposed by Folger Education as a way of creating a capstone project for your study of the play.

This lesson is designed to frame an entire approach to Othello and will take approximately two to three 50-minute classes prior to reading the play and approximately one to two weeks following the conclusion of reading. The staging of scenes may be tailored to the class’s interests, time, and student size; however, teachers should adapt any part of this as they see fit.”

Interested? Read step-by-step instructions for this lesson plan on our website, where we also have links to related worksheets and a video.

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